Father runs across county to cope with grief

Noah Moore takes a break at mile 75 of his cross-county run Dec. 26.

For many who lose a loved one over the course of a year, the Christmas and New Year's holidays are among the toughest times to deal with grief.

This past Christmas, Noah Moore handled it his way.

Noah and Jen Moore lost their only child, Peyton, a bright, energetic, creative, athletic and humorous child with so much promise, on June 4. The 9-year-old, who had been diagnosed with benign rolandic epilepsy six months prior, died after he suffered a likely seizure in his sleep.

Every day since then, the Moores admit that they continue to hurt.

"I try to be grateful for the nearly 10 years that we had this incredible boy," said Jen, "but it's hard not to be angry."

The tragedy was not only felt deeply by the Moore's and their family but also the community at large who knew Peyton, particularly through his athletic exploits, and the impact he had on the life of his parents.

For Noah, Peyton was the key to shedding a hundred pounds off his 5'6", 265-pound body, becoming a running coach specializing in beginners and an avid ultra marathoner. Noah and Peyton both shared a deep love of running and sports.

On Christmas Eve day, Noah posted photos of himself in running gear on Facebook, on U.S. Highway 17 at the South Santee River, the line between Charleston and Georgetown counties. Many friends were not aware what he was planning to do, but the tag #RUN4P offered a clue. But he kept posting pics as he progressed his way down U.S. Highway 17.

The postings on Christmas Day were followed by more on the day after, until he reached the Edisto River at the line between Charleston and Colleton counties.

Noah Moore ran a total of 88½ miles in three days, mostly along uneven pavement and the shoulder of U.S. 17, across the length of Charleston County, not only to cope with his grief but also to honor his son.

"You can imagine this time of year is tough," he said, in a phone interview Dec. 27.

"Sometimes I want to crawl in a hole and lay there, but Jen and I just get up every day and put one foot in front of the other and go. This was my attempt to get through those days. I had three days off. Jen had one. She was worried about me being home by myself. I was trying to figure out what I was going to do those days."

The origin of the run actually started three years ago when Noah, Jen and Peyton were returning from a youth track meet in Myrtle Beach. Noah and Peyton pondered the idea of running from the South Santee to Mount Pleasant. Each subsequent conversation brought even more grandiose plans. Peyton joked that his dad would stop at every mile and do push-ups and crunches.

Eventually, what if, Noah ran all the way across Charleston County?

The "running joke" eventually became poignant reality this year when Noah broke out a map and starting plotting a course.

"When I was thinking about what I was going to do to get through these three days, I started looking at the map and started figuring out the mileage. I figured it would a bit more than a marathon every day. I just decided to do it. It just felt like the right thing," Noah said.

His only reservation was Jen.

"I debated whether to do this or not because it seemed selfish of me to be out there on Jen's only day off and on Christmas," Noah said.

Jen Moore, who is admittedly more private about her grieving process than Noah, said she was on board with the idea, but was "not thrilled about him running on Highway 17." She was his crew member, meeting him every few miles along the route, on Christmas Day.

The Moores didn't tell many people about his plan until he started. His father-in-law, Stewart Johnson, served as his crew member on Day 1, and good friend, Greg Shore, on Day 3.

When he told Shore, who is Noah's running coach, earlier in the month, Shore recalled thinking: "I didn't think it was a good idea, but I knew it would be good for him. ... I'm used to Noah coming up with crazy ideas."

Noah quickly realized that the challenge of the run wasn't just the distance but the running surface.

"Running on the side of 17 is brutal," he said. "There's just like this 2-foot-wide embankment that, after a while, disappears where you are either running in the road or in the grass. And there are more ant hills than I could ever imagine on the side of the road. So it was like an obstacle course. I was jumping in and out of grass and anthills, soft and uneven surfaces."

Day 1 included the longest leg, 33 miles, and wrapped up at the Park West track. Earlier this month, Mount Pleasant Town Council voted unanimously to name the track after Peyton because of his inspiring participation in track and football at the facility.

"When I got to the track, I just lost it. I was flooded with emotions because this was where I watched Peyton play football, throw javelin and run the 1,500," Noah said, adding that starting Day 2, with Jen, from the track was different.

"As emotional and draining as it was the day before, it (being at the track) pushed me to go," Noah said.

Day 2, Christmas Day, included a couple of detours off of 17, the first via Isle of Palms, Sullivan's Island (where the Moores got married) and the Old Village of Mount Pleasant, where Peyton had attended school at Mount Pleasant Academy. Noah stopped at the school where a bench honoring Peyton is located. While he started to feel drained from the running, it didn't compare to the emotional drain Noah felt during that stop.

"It (the drain) pulls at you," Noah said.

Day 2 included a harder than usual climb over the Cooper River bridge, which Noah said is harder after logging 52 miles in two days, a detour around the Charleston Battery, and a finish of his 27-mile day at John Wesley United Methodist Church on Savannah Highway.

While Days 1 and 2 had their mixture of adrenaline, adventure and emotion, Day 3 was the true test of Noah's grit.

"I felt like I could do it, but I was kind of hurting at the beginning. It took eight miles before my legs felt like they were loosening up. I'd almost rather run 88 miles straight than to take three days because you get really tight taking stops."

Plus, he was back on to navigating the uneven terrain and ant hills of U.S. 17. Jockeying between road and shoulder and jumping over ant hills was starting to take its toll on his ankles. Yet despite the aches and pains, it paled in the face of what he and Jen have had to endure since June.

Noah was buoyed by Jen's encouraging text messages - "You got this. You got this!" - and Shore's companionship along the run. With about eight miles left, Noah knew he would finish.

When he made the turn and saw the Edisto River, he was stoked. But upon coming up to the county line, that turned to one last welling of emotion during this long, hard journey that is truly far from over.

Shore noted that Noah celebrated the finish by drinking a can of Peyton's favorite drink, Minute Maid Light Lemonade, despite the fact that Noah is allergic to lemons and the drink gave him "a scratchy throat" for the rest of the day.

A year ago, the Moores would have never envisioned this as their next Christmas memory. And Noah wishes it wasn't.

"Believe me, on Christmas, I would have much rather have been in my pajamas, opening presents with my little boy, than running," said Noah, though adding that he and Peyton would have gone on a run later in the day.

"You can't get over this stuff," said Noah of loss of a child or other loved one. "All you can do is go through it. And I was going through it. Running is insane, but it keeps me sane."

And yet the running still can't fill the void in his life.

"I still miss Peyton every single minute of the day," Noah said.

Reach David Quick at 937-5516.